Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The more the Presidents change, the more the rhetoric remains the same

This evening I picked my wife up from work and as we drove home she asked me if I had watched the inauguration of Barack Obama on television. When I responded in the negative she was surprised. She went on about the historical moment when a black man gets the top job, etc.

I thought about my indifference and I suppose it gets down to two things. The first is that the more things are hyped the more suspicious I become of the substance. I am a person who prefers the steak to the sizzle.

We went down this same road in Canada in 1968 when Pierre Elliott Trudeau won the election – all the same razzle-dazzle, all the same over inflated rhetoric about how he was going to change things for the better, etc., etc.

Four years later we wondered what the shouting had been about. The media were still fascinated by him, but all the things that everybody said he would do seemed quaintly naïve.

He was going to curb the Quebec separatists – they became stronger and organized a political party that won the Quebec election. He was going to make us self-sufficient in energy and ended up alienating western Canada so badly that it resulted in the fracturing of the federal conservative party and wrecked healthy democracy in this country for 15 years. He made his name as the former Justice Minister by amending antiquated divorce, marriage and sexual laws and was portrayed as a hip liberal reformer. However, as Prime Minister, he declared the War Measures Act in effect and suspended civil liberties in Canada, rounding up and detaining a rag-tag bunch of lefty socialists in Montreal – measures that a hard-ass like Dick Cheney could only have wet dreams about.

The second thing is that I have spent my life working in and around politics and politicians. I have done everything in politics there is to do except run for public office (and I turned down two opportunities to do that). One of the liabilities of such a resume is that I have listened to more than my share of political speeches. Further, I have written many of them. They bore me. Well, maybe not the ones I write, but all the others.

I turned on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to see what he would do with the inauguration spectacle. He had a hilarious bit in which he played portions of Obama’s speech that were nearly exact replicas of Bush’s rhetoric. No surprise.

It’s what they do that counts, never what they say they are going to do.

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